First World Problems

My new favorite Martin Luther King Jr. quote is this: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. ” To me, this quote not only challenges the traditional idea of what helping the poor and being compassionate is, but also provides a valid critic of the way our government, non-governmental organizations, and economic systems are structured. While one can read it as a single person giving money to “a beggar” it also could apply to the idea of charity as a whole. Many corporations give millions of dollars to a non-profit that may do some good, but doesn’t actually change anything or end the cycle of poverty. The same can be said for a government; like the US for example, which will give nearly $50 billion of aid to other countries, and yet these countries can never seem to get out of poverty. Perhaps the notion of charity needs to be reevaluated.

This is what I like about micro-finance. Although it is not perfect, it seems to challenge the traditional structure of aid. It is more empowering than handouts. With micro-finance, people are given money, yes, but they are also given respect and accountability.

So with that being said, two days ago I made another loan! This time it happened to be to someone in the US. Unfortunately, I must admit that I, although I’m sure I’m not the only one, tend to be a bit biased against people asking for loans in the developed world (especially the US). I unconsciously assume that they do not need the loan as much as those in less developed countries. This is a common misconception, to be sure, and it can stand in the way of the reforming a pretty flawed system like that of the US. When I think of it at a more human level though, such as in terms of my own struggle with this project, I can more easily understand the plight of someone in the developed world.

So I encourage you, whoever is reading this, to take a minute to check out this other entrepreneur’s blog, shop, and kiva profile (she still needs lenders!) Although there may be people who are in more dire financial conditions, we can’t forget our neighbors who may still need our help as well.

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Catarina’s Loan: http://www.kiva.org/lend/597599

Catarina’s Shop: http://docerelashop.com/

Catarina’s Blog: http://blog.docerelashop.com/

P.S. She makes stamps too! Talk about a perfect loan for me to help with!

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Today (July 12) is Malala Day

When people think of role models, they usually think of those who are older, who have lived long enough to have gained some amount of wisdom about the life that we are all living together. Rarely does a 16-year-old girl come to mind, but when one watches the video footage of Malala giving her speech eloquently, calmly, and passionately to the United Nations, one can hardly keep from admiring her.

Growing up in The West, I can’t count how many times a minor infraction can lead to much anger from myself and others during the day. A sloppy parking job, cutting in line, or even indecisiveness on someone else’s part can make another person fume for several minutes, or even hours.

Grace is nonexistent in those scenarios, and yet one can find it abound in this 16-year-old girl who has been shot in the head for simply trying to go to school. In fact, instead of reverting to anger, she draws upon the strength and wisdom of some of the most peaceful people to have walked on this planet–Muhammad, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., The Buddha, Mother Teresa, as well as a few more. She understands Martin Luther King Jr.’s words that “hate cannot drive out hate,” and inspires those who watch her speech to understand and believe in those words as well.

While I was left in awe of her strength and eloquence while watching this speech, what I felt the most, as I am sure was her intention with her speech, was inspiration and empowerment. I was inspired to keep going, to continue to use my voice as often as necessary and appropriate for justice, peace, and equality. I was also inspired to stop taking my freedom for granted but at the same time to keep fighting for freedom until equality for everyone is achieved.

So today, Malala Day, I am taking up my “pen” (well, cyber-pen) as Malala suggests because I can and because it is my right as a global citizen. I am writing to encourage others to take up Malala’s cause and empower themselves and others through education and using their voice to push against the status quo. I am, as Malala said, “call[ing] upon our sisters [and brothers] around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.”

How Poverty Affects Everyone, Even the Rich

One of the most frustrating things about the issues of poverty and social justice is that often times it feels like no one really cares. Sure many people may hear a statistic or see a picture of a hungry baby and feel sad, but they usually carry on with their day virtually unaffected. Or worse yet, they are confronted by a homeless person on the street and they hand them a couple bucks or some loose change in the hope that that will appease them. In the hope that they will disappear. They refuse to engage them, hear their story, acknowledge that they are human, and they especially try their hardest not to think of them again. They are part of the scenery of a big city, not people, just ugly, moving statues that for some reason terrify those who are more fortunate. Why is this?

I believe there are many reasons why, but one of the main reasons is that it either doesn’t affect them or they refuse to believe that it affects them. Many rational and intelligent people can see that certain issues, if they don’t affect them now, can affect them in the future, making those issues easier to take up. Causes like cancer awareness/research, environmental issues, domestic violence, etc while all noble, are to varying degrees tainted with the threat that it will affect the person intimately at some point in their lives. Rarely do people (in the US especially) see poverty affecting them intimately until it is too late. That is because wealth (or perceived wealth) is the cultural norm and it is thus revered as a fulfillment of our constitutional obligation to the pursuit of happiness.

Poverty is also ignored by the masses because it means that people have to care and get emotionally involved. They know it is easier to keep emotions at a platonic level so that their lives can remain unchallenged and thus unchanged. Change means being uncomfortable, or worse yet, could lead to pain and most people (especially in the West) do everything to avoid discomfort. They keep their eyes down, keep their slippers at the edge of their bed, buy and install electric towel warmers in their bathrooms, start their cars from indoors to warm it up on a snowy day, and most tragically, they have refused to talk about the issues that really matter.

Quickly, however, this obsession with comfort creates a numbing effect. Because people can no longer feel pain or discomfort, they can no longer feel joy and connection. As Brené Brown said in her TED Talk: “You cannot selectively numb emotion.” Furthermore, when people seek to numb their emotions they end up numbing the most human part of themselves. Thus it is imperative to understand that when people refuse to take on the burdens of others and become emotionally invested in their stories, they are not only denying those “others” but also denying their own humanity.

By Darwinist, originally posted here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/darwinist/23092205/

Poverty’s Complexities

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Poverty is a very complex issue and that is what makes it difficult to combat. For that reason, I am writing this post to quickly address what the issues surrounding poverty may include so that if I talk about these sub-issue later on, it is understood in that these are not coming from left-field, but are relevant to the topic of global poverty. The problematic issues include:

  • Agricultural Subsidies
  • Globalization
  • Gender-Inequality
  • Corruption
  • Racism
  • Zero-Sum Game/Fallacy
  • Education
  • Health -Venereal Diseases, Malaria, Obstetric Fistulas, etc
  • Ecological Health
  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Food Scarcity/Surplus
  • Hierarchy
  • Charity
  • Foreign Aid

And of course a few solution-oriented (and slightly less tangible) issues that I’ve touched on already in this blog:

  • Ingenuity
  • Creativity
  • Risk
  • Choice
  • Freedom (from and to)
  • Cooperation
  • Compassion

For more information on the problems surrounding the issue of poverty (and ideas on how they can be solved) I recommend checking out this website: http://www.povertycure.org/issues/ and/or watching the DVD series: “Poverty Cure.”

Poverty Cure was created by the Acton Institute -an economic think-tank in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This campaign conducted a solution-oriented look at global poverty and empowers not only those who are impoverished, but also those who may not be and are concerned about poverty. In the words of my friend Matthea who worked on the project: “It makes you feel proud to be a human!”

Capitalism: Corrupt or Commendable?

With the Christmas season coming to a close, it is interesting to see what the celebration of the birth of Christ has brought. Many people describe this time of the year as “hectic” and people are often stressed and more than a little irritable. Not only that, but it is no secret that this time of the year takes consumerism to a whole new level. Many devout (but perhaps equally afflicted) Christians wonder if this is really what God intended when He sent His son. This time of the year makes one wonder how something so pure, divine, and beautiful could get so distorted into the ugliness of greed.

Now if we as humans can screw up something that is divinely sent, imagine what we can do to something of humanly creation. Insert economic theories and policies. Humans created economics in order to create a smooth and functional society, however,  the US in recent years, through the medium of capitalism, has distorted this relatively pure invention into a greed-inducing machine.

Before delving further into how capitalism is being used and/or manipulated for different purposes it is important to define capitalism. According to capitalism.org it is: “a social system based on the principle of individual rights. Politically, it is the system of laissez-faire (freedom). Legally it is a system of objective laws (rule of law as opposed to rule of man). Economically, when such freedom is applied to the sphere of production its’ result is the free-market.” (For all intents and purposes this is the definition that will be used for the remainder of the article.)

Capitalism (according to the definition above) is the economic system that has dominated in the US economic scene for the last several decades. Today the free market system seems to be so heavily protected that it seems to be regarded as equal to (greater than?) God Himself.  Some see it as the root of all evil, where money is the center of the universe and all else -humanity, the environment, and God himself- is less important. The capitalist is the Mr. Burns of society. He is ruthless, money-loving, self-aggrandizing, and exploitative. He has raped the world, literally in some cases, in order to gain power and wealth (what is one without the other, really?) The capitalist is the reason we have such things as blood-diamonds, genetically modified food, and global warming. He is Machiavellian. He is Rich Uncle Pennybags.

But there is another face of capitalism. It is one of empowerment, entrepreneurship, and honest hard-work. This side of capitalism does indeed still exist. One way capitalism, in the more pure, closer to ideological form, is being used for good is in poverty-stricken regions to create economic mobility for those who are most lacking in it. Micro-enterprise (as mentioned in a previous post) is the use of capitalism to help people get out of poverty. It promotes free and competitive markets, private ownership, and an answer to poverty.

Ironically, the US has been the driving force for promoting capitalism (guised as democracy) throughout the world in order to “develop” it. This capitalism is better described as “crony capitalism” which is a capitalist system that depends heavily on the bond between corporations and the government and leave little to no room for anyone other than these two entities. It seems like a difficult way to create any lasting change/development. This kind of capitalism is heavily laden with self-serving attitudes, businesses that are “too big to fail,” and a false sense of competition when business that seem to be in opposition of one another are really owned by the same parent corporation.

Capitalism is what the individual wants/allows it to be. If one wants to use it to create a free society that promotes economic mobility and healthy competition, then that is available. If one wants to use it to take advantage of those who are less fortunate, to feed their own greed, and to boost their own power that is also a possibility. It is that way no matter what economical/political system is in place. Just as communism was used for power and greed in the former Soviet Union, it was also used (if not in name, then through common values to the theory) for harmony and equality in some religious communities such as the Quakers and the Dominicans. The ideas, systems, theories, etc are not to be blamed for the destruction they create, rather the people who are wielding it are the ones responsible.

Cure to Poverty?

Cure to Poverty?

I read this book last semester for my international economics class (and partially on my own accord.) I took the class in an independent study format and since I was already reading the book, and the textbook for the class was pretty worthless, I asked to use it for the class. Thankfully, I found Yunus’ approach to poverty and economics was radically different than that of the dry textbook. He brought economics to life and made it interesting. (I suspect I shall be using his book as a reference for many more posts.)

Yunus’ approach is what is now called microfinance/lending/credit and he started his own bank (Grameen Bank) in order to finance small loans to the poor. His poverty-fighting journey began when he was a professor and realized that in the town nearby there was a large number of people living in poverty. He then began asking himself what the role of university was, and should be, to the community. His conclusion, that the university should be an asset to the community -not a separate entity, empowered him to find ways to help the community as well as teach his students simultaneously. He went out and talked to the poorest of the poor and found that their issue was not that they didn’t have any ideas on how to earn capital, rather they had no initial capital to invest in their ideas. Thus, Yunus impulsively invested in one person’s idea, while symbolically investing in the ideas and futures of poverty-stricken people everywhere.

Since 1983, when Professor Yunus started Grameen, over 3.8 billion dollars have been lent to more than 2.4 million families. He has also won the Nobel Prize and inspired others to start their own micro-credit programs. He started a revolution that is still gaining momentum today, one that is the epitome of creativity. He saw others’ capacity for creativity and was inspired to create a new system to help those people meet their creative potential.

Some of the best side effects from microfinance, however, have not had much to do with economics at all. Because his microfinance institution, along with many others around the world, made it a requirement for borrowers to attend meetings with other borrowers in order to learn from one another, a strong sense of community began to take hold among the borrowers. They learned how to solve each other’s problems and began supporting each other in their respective endeavors.

Remarkably the sense of community has not been confined to those local communities. Given the newer technologies of the day, i.e. the Internet, people from these communities have been able to connect with people around the world who are either struggling with the same issues, are willing to invest in their business, or have never heard of microfinance. In fact, the microfinance movement has reached people who have never given much thought to worldwide poverty, but who, through the use of the Internet, may have their horizons opened by a story of a person whom they’ve never met living in a place like Bangladesh, Honduras, or Ghana.

The microfinance revolution has also had a profound effect on gender equality. In many less-developed countries women are unable to borrow money, work outside the home, or even leave the home without their male guardian’s consent. However, Yunus found that allowing women to be the breadwinners made for a more prosperous family unit. They were more likely to invest in the education of their children, the upkeep of the home, and food. He thus set out to make at least half the loans granted by the Grameen Bank go to women. Today, about 95% of the borrowers are women. These women are better fed, have children that are better cared for, and are not subjugated to domestic violence nearly as often (men tend not to beat women when they are providing them with more income.)

While microfinance does have its drawbacks (more on this in later posts), the way it creatively and constructively looks for lasting solutions to the issues of global poverty, international/community development, and inequality is inspiring people across the globe by giving power to those who have previously had none.

Introductions

This blog is about my latest business venture: starting my own micro-enterprise “Right Brain Left Hand Creations” in order to learn what it is like to start my own small business so that I may help other women do the same. I am inspired by micro-finance –a process of lending money to the poor either as start-up cash for their business idea or  to help their business grow– and I see it as a viable solution to poverty world wide.

As far as my business is concerned, I’ve started making handmade “thank you” and “I’m sorry” cards and decided to sell them on Etsy.com. This began with my desire to have thank you cards that are very personal. I love beautiful paper and interesting lettering, so this seemed like a really natural choice for me.

I’ve never seen myself as a business person, EVER. I went through school feeling destined to go in to the non-profit world and use my talents elsewhere. When I graduated I could not find/get a job in this field primarily due to a lack of experience. That’s the funny thing with experience, though, you need it to gain employment, but employment is what gives you that experience. A question began to well up within me: how do you gain experience, if no one is willing to give you a chance? My answer: do it yourself.

Thus I decided to start my own business and see where it goes. If it fails, meh, so be it. I guess my talents lie elsewhere. If it flourishes, nice! Then I can buy groceries! (Haha.) If it gets in this weird middle state (which will probably be accurate) I’m sure I’m not the only business to do so, so it will give me empathy for those who are in the same situation and will also teach me a lot about small businesses and how to problem solve within that context. Basically, even if I fail, I feel as though I won’t lose. Life’s lessons are the best rewards and they are given liberally.

I am also going to make a loan on Kiva.org to another woman in another country and will be tracking her progress as well as providing facts about micro-finance, the global south/poverty, and gender equality.

I’m excited about this new project of mine, and look forward to creating, growing, and learning in this process.